Myles Garrett is battle-tested.
The Cleveland Browns rookie defensive end spent his college years playing in the hyper-competitive SEC, regularly lining up against future NFL draft picks.
"Playing in the SEC, there's a lot of linemen that go into the NFL. You're going against NFL-level talent right away, as soon as you step on the field as a freshman," Garrett recently told STACK.
But which opponent did Garrett find to be the most ferocious? Auburn? LSU? Perennial powerhouse Alabama?
None of those choices would be surprising, but Garrett states his toughest opponent was actually Arkansas. Arkansas isn't a bad team—they had a record of 22-17 during Garrett's time at Texas A&M—but they're certainly no 'Bama. So what exactly made them so tough?
"They always brought the best out of every single one of us. We always went to the fourth quarter, and we didn't know what was going to happen. It was always close or tied games, and we're punishing each other," Garrett says. "It was just always a great battle between us two teams."
With just over a minute left in regulation during the 2015 A&M-Arkansas game, Garrett made a crucial strip sack to help force overtime. A&M went on to win the game 28-21.
But it was his final game against Arkansas that proved to be Garrett's biggest battle. With the game tied at 17 shortly after halftime, a low block from an Arkansas lineman caused Garrett to suffer a high ankle sprain. He was clearly in pain, but he returned to the game shortly thereafter. He totaled a TFL, a QB hurry and a fumble recovery as A&M went on to win the game.
"When I got hurt, it wasn't a decision—I wasn't coming out of the game. It was still up in the air (at that time) who was going to take the momentum, and I knew that I had to step up and make the plays for my guys," Garrett said. As it turned out, Garrett's decision to play through the pain played a role in the Browns eventually selecting him with the No. 1 overall pick in the 2017 NFL Draft.
Andrew Berry, Cleveland's vice president of player personnel, was at the game scouting Garrett. "I remember seeing the block where he got cut by the left tackle and thinking, 'man, I traveled all this way and spent all this time and he's probably not even going to be able to finish the game," Berry told ClevelandBrowns.com. "This was an injury, really, he shouldn't have gone back in the game. I thought there was no chance he would return and because of the competitiveness and because of the passion he has for his teammates he came and really, quite honestly, on one leg played for an entire second half and played high-quality football."